The Path to Finding Focus Through Music

Radio recommendations from coach Sage Rountree to hone your attention when reading, writing, or practicing.

Whether you’re working in an open office or practicing yoga in a crowded gym, the sonic barrier of music can create a container that allows for deep focus while reading, writing, or practicing. It can also help us explore some of the more esoteric of the eight limbs of yoga, and see how they apply on the mat, in the body, and in the mind.

Withdraw Your Senses

Building the container is what, in yoga, we would call pratyahara: withdrawing your senses from external objects to focus on internal tasks. Pratyahara is the fifth of the eight limbs of yoga outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. We practice pratyahara when we turn away from stimuli that come in from our five senses: touch, smell, taste, sight, and sound. The key to using music to enter this state is choosing the right sound to create a buffer between the distractions of the external environment and your intellectual pursuit without engaging your mind on an active level. For this, instrumental, calm, unobtrusive music works well.

Here are channels I enjoyed while writing this piece:

Narrow Your Focus

Pratyahara sets the stage for the sixth limb: dharana, the ability to sustain concentration on one thing. In this state, we work single-pointed focus. As you develop this skill, you might work to keep your mind on one task, guiding it back every time distraction arises. In yoga practice, this one task could be counting breaths; keeping your eyes on your drishti, or gazing point; or repeating a mantra. In workouts, you build focus by associating: keeping your attention on the effort at hand, without letting your mind dissociate. This is useful in endurance workouts and time-trial races, where you are essentially competing with yourself. While working, it means being able to maintain concentration on a single task over time.

Here are channels to help with single-pointed concentration, as they use repetition and mantra to build focus:

Immerse Yourself in the Moment

Once you’re good at keeping your mind sustained on one chore over time, you’ll be ready to develop dhyana, the seventh of the eight limbs. Sometimes translated as “meditation,” dhyana is the ability to hold several things in your mind simultaneously. Think of it as presence: being totally immersed in the moment, with everything that moment brings. When you achieve dhyana in yoga practice, it becomes a moving meditation, and you grow aware of the connection between all elements of your being: breath, body, and mind. In workouts and races, it means being able to respond to the movement of the ball or an attack from your competition. And at work, this state allows for synthesis of information—pulling what might at first seem to be disparate pieces together in order to create a connected whole.

To prepare for presence and connection, either at your desk, on your mat, or out on the court or course, listen to music that synthesizes various motifs, combining many themes into a united whole. These channels will help:

Photo via istock

Sage-webSage Rountree ( is an internationally recognized authority in yoga for athletes and an endurance sports coach with certifications from USA Triathlon and RRCA. Her six books include The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery and Racing Wisely, and she contributes regularly to Yoga Journal and Runner’s World.